'Truth spoken without moderation reverses itself'
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Tuesday, January 19, 2016
SIDDHARTHA GIGOO - To Die While Dreaming of Return //Kundan Lal Chowdhury - Kashmiri Pandits remember January 19, 1990: ‘It is for your own good to leave’
One day in the autumn of 1989, at National High School, in
Srinagar, I confided in my classmates that my father owned a copy of The
Satanic Verses. It had been brought for us secretly by a Melbourne-based
uncle, who knew my father’s admiration for Salman Rushdie and his novels. That
afternoon, as I returned home, some boys stopped me and introduced me to a
lanky youth who claimed to be the Area Commander of a militant organisation.
The boys accused me of blasphemy and said that I had insulted the Prophet by
talking about The Satanic Verses. They ordered me to apologise and
recite some verses from the Quran. I resisted initially, but feared for my
parents when the youth lifted the hem of his pheran and showed me the nozzle of
a pistol. I did what they asked: Apologised, repeated the words they recited,
and upon being threatened, swore never to lie again (they refused to believe
that I had the banned book at home). After slapping me, they let me go.
Years later, in 2005, when I read Rushdie’s magical-realist
novel, Shalimar the Clown – partly set in Pachigam, a
fictional place in Kashmir – I was surprised to find a description of the fate
of the Pandits, of families like my own.
Hindu community houses, temples, private homes and whole
neighbourhoods were being destroyed… Kill one, scare ten, the Muslim mobs
chanted, and ten were, indeed, scared…Three hundred and fifty thousand Pandits,
almost the entire Pandit population of Kashmir fled from their own homes and
headed south to the refugee camps where they would rot, like bitter fallen
apple, like the unloved, undead dead they had become. In the so-called
Bangladeshi Markets in Iqbal Park – Hazuri Bagh area of Srinagar the things
looted from temples and homes were being openly bought and sold…
Three and a
half lakhs of human beings arrived in Jammu as displaced persons and for many
months the government did not provide shelters or relief or even register their
names, why was that… The camps at Purkhoo, Muthi, Mishriwallah, Nagrota were
built on the banks and beds of nullahas, dry seasonal waterways, and when the
water came the camps were flooded, why was that…The pandits of Kashmir were
left to rot in their slum camps, to rot while the army and the insurgency
fought over the bloodied and broken valley, to dream of return, to die while
dreaming of return, to die after the dream of return died so that they could
not even die dreaming of it, why was that why was that why was that why was
that why was that.
On September 14, 1989, as I was going for tuition to Fateh
Kadal in downtown Srinagar, I heard about the assassination of Tika Lal Taploo,
a prominent lawyer and chief of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Jammu and
Kashmir. He was shot dead outside his house in Habba Kadal, Srinagar. Six weeks
later, on November 4, militants killed Justice Neel Kanth Ganjoo in Hari Singh
High Street. His granddaughter was my friend and classmate. As the Sessions
Judge, Justice Ganjoo had sentenced Maqbool Bhat, co-founder of the Jammu &
Kashmir Liberation Front, to death for murdering a police inspector in
Baramulla, and also for murdering a bank officer. Thousands of people came out
on the streets and celebrated the killing of Justice Ganjoo. ‘Maqbool Bhat’s
death has been avenged,’ our neighbour said. People in our neighbourhood
chanted pro-Pakistan slogans, waved Pakistani flags, and burnt effigies of
At the onset of the New Year in 1990, I witnessed a strange
turn of events in Khankah-i-Sokhta, my locality. Known for the abiding
friendships between Muslims and Pandits who lived there, the locality resounded
with cries of Muslim men and women whose teenaged boys started disappearing
from their homes to join militant outfits and wage war against the security
forces deployed in Srinagar. Many of these boys never returned. A sense of fear
grew among the Pandits as they saw Muslim youths glorify the armed struggle
against India. When security forces killed militants, it was marked by grief as
well as jubilation.
Anti-Pandit sentiment prevailed everywhere. It brought back
the horrific memory of the riots in Kashmir’s Anantnag district in February and
March 1986, in which many Pandits were targeted and attacked, and temples were
desecrated and ransacked. While hundreds of Muslims came out on the streets in
downtown Srinagar, defying curfew and shoot-on-sight orders, to demand freedom
from India, the Pandits huddled indoors in fear and bewilderment.
In February 1990, militants killed Lassa Kaul, Director of
Doordarshan Kendra, outside his house in Bemina. He was my father’s friend. At
his funeral, which was attended by hundreds of Pandits and a Central Minister
of Information and Broadcasting who’d flown in from New Delhi, Muslim
protesters chanted slogans against Jagmohan, the Governor of the state, who had
just assumed office.
At Lassa Kaul’s funeral, Pandits wept. Muslims blamed
Jagmohan for Lassa Kaul’s death. They spread rumours that his killing was a
conspiracy hatched by the Indian intelligence agencies to discredit the
muhajids and the Tehreek. Before his death, Lassa Kaul had confided in my
father about the threats he had received from militant groups. Some militants
had visited him in his office and ordered him to stop broadcasting Indian TV
programmes in Kashmir. Ignoring the demands and threats, he had continued to
work although many of his colleagues had advised him to leave Kashmir. He had
been taking care of his ailing father.
The kidnapping of Soom Nath Saproo, our neighbour, terrified
us. He worked in the Defence Estates Office of the Government of India and was
posted at Shivpora. His daughter was my classmate and used to take tuition from
my father at our place. Saproo had gone to buy milk when he was kidnapped. My
father and I went to his house. Many Pandits and Muslims had gathered there.
Our neighbour, Hafiz, told us that Saproo was on the hit list of a militant
outfit because he worked for the Central Government. He had even warned Saproo.
Saproo’s family revealed that they had received threats from a militant group
that he would be targeted. Two days later, at the behest of influential people
in the locality, the militants released Saproo. He reached home with a gash on
his head. He wouldn’t talk. He fled to Jammu the next day. He died a few years
ago. His last wish – to return home – remained unfulfilled.
In April 1990, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, through the columns of an
Urdu daily, Al Safa, issued an ultimatum to Pandits to leave
Kashmir in 36 hours. On the same day, the newspaper also carried an ominous
column referring to Pandits as untrustworthy and informants of the Indian
intelligence agencies. This was the second time a pro-Pakistan militant outfit
had issued an ultimatum to Pandits. The first had appeared in Aftab, in
January. At that time, Pandits had persisted and lingered.
In our locality, I saw hundreds of posters pasted on doors,
walls, shops and electric poles ordering Pandit families to leave. Suspicion,
betrayal and mistrust divided the Muslims and the Pandits. Friends parted from
friends, neighbours from neighbours. The Pandit families started to pack and
leave. A few families, including mine, didn’t leave. We spent nervy days inside
our house with a foreboding that these were our last days.
Some days later, I saw Ismael and his two sons dumping arms
in a dugout in the courtyard of their house, which was next to ours. Ismael was
my grandfather’s friend. He reared pigeons for a living…
The past two months have seen the terrorists in full charge
since the governing machinery has made its customary move to the winter capital
in Jammu along with the bureaucrats, politicians, legislators and ministers.
The valley has fallen in the iron grip of mushrooming militant organisations.
Their diktats are flying from all directions and bringing
about drastic changes in the social-cultural-administrative milieu of the
valley. Cinema owners have been forced to close down, kiosks selling alcoholic
drinks have been banned, clubs have shut down, beauty parlours and boutiques
have disappeared. There is a breakdown of law and order. Every house,
neighbourhood, village and town is agog with an eerie enthusiasm and
expectation. Chants of tehreek rend the air: “Azadi has become the mantra,
Islam the idea, Pakistan the utopia.”
There has been an increased number of bomb blasts as the
abductions and killings of Pandits go on. By now more than thirty Kashmiri
Pandits have been gunned down. There is an all-pervasive sense of fear and
insecurity in the community. They are like frightened chicken in a cage in the
butcher’s shop. The murderers kill with impunity. What remains of the
administration in the valley is too defunct to take any action.
The Pandits endure the pogrom. The outside world remains
silent. The Pandits have no options, and nowhere to turn to except the very
people who have ordered their decimation. That is why, the other day the
president of a prominent socio-cultural organisation of Pandits sent a candid
public appeal to JKLF through an open letter invoking Kashmiriyat, the
much-touted Kashmiri spirit of amity and tolerance: “We desire to live in peace
and harmony with our Muslim brethren. We have nothing against your tehreek.
Please spare my community and stop the killings.”
The reply came forthwith through a stinging note strung to
the dead body of his deputy that had been thrown by the riverside during the
night. It read, “We presume you got the answer, Mr President.” that has forced
him to declare his community unsafe. He has asked Pandits to exercise their own
judgment and discretion since the whole community is persona non grata in
Kashmir and there is no one to protect the Pandits.
By and large, the State Government Muslim employees from the
valley are not unsympathetic to the motivation behind terrorism or the means
adopted by its perpetrators. In flagrant violation of service rules, some of
them are aiding and abetting terrorism – working as moles, passing vital
security, logistical and related information to the militants and their mentors.
Others, including several policemen, have even enlisted as jihadi volunteers
and crossed over to POK while still being on the payrolls of the government.
The regional print media, under the directive and dictates
of the numerous militant outfits, have become a part of the propaganda
machinery for feeding Jihad to the masses. Mosques and madrassas are in
overdrive. The whole valley breathes of lawlessness and terror. People are
being sucked into the black hole of Jihad, brainwashed into believing that “Azadi”
is round the corner and those who oppose it will do so at their own peril.
Most right-thinking Muslims, euphemistically called
moderates, find themselves helpless even as they do not like what is happening,
for they foresee how it will engulf and imperil the fabric of Kashmiri society.
By remaining quiet they acquiesce to the inevitability of terrorism and the
means that are adopted to achieve its ends.... Read more: